Sussex Stoolball plays a role in the rehabilitation of WWI soldiers.
Our next Conversation Cafes session takes place at Jubilee Library, Brighton on Wednesday March 9th 2.30-4.30pm.
In our March session of Conversation cafes at Jubilee Library for the Boys on the Plaque project, we’ll look at the rich history of stoolball from its early origins, via the Victorians and WWI through to the present day. This will be presented by Stoolball England officer Anita Broad.
The traditional Sussex sport of stoolball, which originated in Medieval times, is still played enthusiastically across Sussex today. However, during the First World War the game was reinvigorated as an opportunity to continue the rehabilitation of wounded soldiers.
Traditionally a rural village women’s game, stoolball played a significant part in the rehabilitation of soldiers injured in WWI. The eccentric Sussex landowner Maj. W W Grantham of Barcombe and Chailey was solely responsible for the promotion of the sport nationally and internationally, both as an ideal sport for rehabilitation and a fund-raising resource.
Maj. Grantham began organising stoolball matches at the Princess Louise Military Hospital at Chailey Heritage and games were played against the soldiers at the Limbless Hospital for Men at the Brighton Pavilion. The popularity of the game quickly extended around the country and between the wars there were over 1000 teams playing stoolball.
Stoolball has always been a sport heavily connected with Sussex and dates back to the Middle Ages where players would use their hand to defend a wooden stool from being hit by the ball. In its modern format, it resembles a mix of cricket and baseball with a wicket comprising a square piece of wood elevated at around head height and teams aiming to score runs with the bat whilst preventing the opposition from catching or bowling them out.
Major William Wilson Grantham is, in many ways, the modern favour of stoolball. He was serving on a military tribunal in Britain with the 6th Royal Sussex Regiment when his eldest son received a serious injury on the Western Front. There were a variety of methods used for the treatment and recuperation of wounded soldiers during the war, such as military massage. The possibility for also participating in sporting activity and contest was highly appealing to the army but they were wary of games such as football, rugby and even cricket and tennis being to strenuous and physical for these men and, as a result, likely to exacerbate their injuries.
In response to this need, Major Grantham pioneered an inaugural stoolball match between wounded soldiers and elderly lawyers (including himself). The soldiers ran out victorious. Following the success of the match, Major Grantham began organising regular games in Sussex for injured soldiers.
Such was the benefit of the sport it was played by both wounded soldiers and children at the St Nicholas Home for Raid Shock Children at Chailey Heritage.